Arizona State University’s mascot, Sparky, proved he had a lot more to offer than good dance moves Friday.
During an hour-long assembly for Rim Country Middle School students, Sparky encouraged students to adopt the Sparky way, all while having a good time dancing, shouting and stomping.
ASU graduate student Aaron Pisk explained being a S.P.A.R.K.Y. means you are a self-starter, positive, active, responsible, knowledgeable, and yourself.
Pisk led the assembly in the Payson High School Wilson Dome, since Sparky does not talk. “Being a Sparky is a major responsibility and honor,” he said.
“Sparky believes if students strive to be all these things they will be successful in not only gaining an education, but throughout their lives,” according to the Sparky’s Tour Web site.
The plan to get students excited about school in a fun and interactive way appeared to work.
Students listened intently to Pisk and watched Sparky’s every move. When Sparky motioned for students to cheer they cheered and when Pisk asked them to shout they shouted as loud as they could. For nearly an hour straight, the gym was filled with boisterous screams and foot stomping.
The gym erupted in even more excitement when eighth-grade student Nick McMullen was chosen to receive the Sparky award.
RCMS teachers and administrative staff nominated McMullen for the award for his straight A academic standing, sports involvement and upstanding character, said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
Gary Witherspoon, RCMS principal, said McMullen best represents the criteria of a Sparky.
McMullen received a signed Sparky poster, a Sparky T-shirt and will get a behind-the-scenes tour of ASU.
This is the second year for the Sparky tour, which was started last fall by the ASU Athletic Department to encourage elementary and middle students to work hard so they can attend college, make positive choices along the way and spread good will throughout life.
Last year, the tour visited 32 Valley schools and interacted with nearly 20,000 students. Pisk said they already have 19 schools lined up for this fall and expect to have even more in the spring.
On this leg of the tour, members of the spirit squad promoted the message by leading students through a cheer and discussing how their choices led them to college.
At other schools on the tour, student athletes and coaches, including water polo silver medalists and ASU water polo coach Betsey Armstrong, recount how working hard and having a positive attitude has led them through life.
“We want to spread the importance of education,” Pisk said. “We use athletics as a tool.”
Through hard work, Pisk said college is accessible to everyone.
Evans said he is especially excited for this group of RCMS students because they could be the first graduating class from the new Arizona State University branch campus in Payson.
Evans and the town council are currently working with ASU officials to build a four-year college campus in Payson that could open within two years.
The undergraduate campus could potentially offer classes taught at the main campus and broadcast over a high-speed video cable. Classes taught locally could include rural health care, nursing, ecology, green industries, alternative energy, environmental design, sustainable forest businesses and management.
“It is really exciting to be here especially with the ASU campus coming to town,” Evans said after the assembly. “ASU has been a good friend to Payson for years.”
Scott and Tedi Flake, local sponsors of Club ASU, an organization that introduces local youth to college and ASU, said it is important kids are exposed to college at an early age.
Living in a town without a four-year college, Scott said most students have never set foot on a campus. Bringing the Sparky tour to Payson exposes students to the idea of college.
“We want to help all students go to college,” Witherspoon said.
Parents or students interested in joining Club ASU can go to www.clubasu.asu.edu for more information and contact the Flakes at (928) 474-9139.